Fast, superfast and ultrafast broadband – what’s the difference?
Broadband speed is determined by how much information can be downloaded each second. A superfast 30Mb broadband speed, for example, would mean up to 30Mb of data could download each second. By definition, superfast broadband has speeds over 24Mb and ultrafast broadband is over 100Mb. Broadband speeds can vary considerably by location, with people living in urban areas often able to access faster speeds than those in rural areas.
So while the average broadband speed throughout the UK is now around 20Mb, how fast a connection is will depend on location. For fixed broadband 2Mb is currently considered a basic broadband connection. But faster speeds of 5Mb to 10Mb are often considered a more realistic target for basic broadband connections. Read our full guide here for more information on finding the best fast broadband provider.
How fast does my broadband need to be?
Put simply, the faster the broadband the quicker it'll be to download information from the internet. So, whether viewing a simple website, downloading a song, or streaming an entire film in HD, a superfast or ultrafast broadband connection will save time compared to slower connections. Internet speeds are also affected when there's more than one person using the same connection - this is less noticeable with high-speed internet. While superfast or ultrafast internet isn't always necessary, it can certainly make using the internet more enjoyable and more efficient.
How to find the best superfast broadband deal
Aside from a fast download speed, to find the best deal it’s worth considering: availability; price; and data usage. The advertised "up to" download speeds are based on the technology used and won't represent the exact speed. But all the major providers should be able to give a good estimate of the expected speed for a particular location. Before signing up, it's important to check this estimate by entering a postcode and/or phone number into the checker on their website.
An easy way to check general availability is to use our availability checker when comparing deals. Line rental varies by provider and should be factored into the overall price (we include this in the monthly price in the table above) - some providers offer discounted introductory line rental. It's worth looking out for added savings or benefits, including discounts, vouchers and gift cards.
Broadband providers offer varying degrees of data usage - some are capped at a specific number of Mb, but many also offer "unlimited" or "truly unlimited" deals. Unlimited usage will be subject to a fair use policy and providers can employ traffic management measures to slow down speeds for heavy users – this is also known as throttling. To avoid throttling, heavy users may want to consider a truly unlimited deal.
Fibre, copper and ADSL
There are five major types of cable delivering broadband, each able to achieve different speeds. The fastest is fibre to the home (FTTH) with speeds up to 1Gb. Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is far more common and the next fastest and there are two different versions of FTTC. Virgin Media use a coaxial cable from the cabinet to the home whereas BT uses a traditional copper cable. Coaxial cable provides a more efficient connection than copper wire so Virgin Media's FTTC achieves ultrafast speeds of up to 300Mb whereas BT's FTTC has superfast speeds up to 76Mb. Standard broadband (or ADSL2+) offers speeds up to 17Mb and ADSLMax, up to 8Mb.
Because of the different technologies used, broadband speeds vary by provider and location – so not everyone can access the fastest broadband speeds available. In the case of FTTC – the further from a cabinet, the slower the speed. This is why it's always important to check both availability and speed according to location, before deciding on the best deal.
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